Sitting there, I’m watching intently as the final moments of Virginia are playing out in front of me on the screen. Many different emotions coursing throughout my body, I try to make sense of what is happening as the scenes continue to jump all over the place, one after another. And then, it’s over. The game ends and the credits roll. Watching the credits, my mind is racing to try and piece together everything that just happened. And now, far removed from that initial playthrough and a better sense of understanding, I still can’t stop thinking about my journey through the small, quaint town of Kingdom, Virginia. Read on for our full Virginia review.
Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Variable State
Available On: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
Release Date: September 22, 2016
Copy Supplied by Publisher
You play as a new FBI Agent, Anne Tarver. Her first assignment with the Federal Bureau of Investigation is that of a missing teenager in Kingdom, Virginia. Her partner for the case is Maria Halperin, which actually turns out to be her secondary assignment… keeping an eye on and investigating her. The reasoning behind this is never fully made clear in the scenes that transpire during the game. But pay very close attention near the end of the game during a time when a bunch of scenes are being thrown at you, and you can begin to piece together and form your own conclusions as to why this is happening.
Virginia explores the relationship between co-workers in a way that is extremely powerful, as Anne and Maria struggle to work together while teetering on the brink of an actual friendship. You’ll see intimate friendship-like moments shared between the two of them at various locations such as a bar, a gathering at the top of a water tower, and the morning after as Anne wakes up groggily from a night of partying, passed out at Halperin’s place, only to find her in the kitchen making breakfast, ensuring that you get more food than she does.
Maria Halperin is an interesting character, and the one thing that sticks out about her most is a locket that she carries around with her. It’s this locket, which houses a photo of a mysterious woman, that a whole plot point of the game is based around. You’ll also experience the way these two go through the struggle of losing a loved one, and generally not feeling accepted. It’s a powerful thing to watch, and while there are some confusing bits that hold Virginia back from being an absolute masterpiece, it’s still really well done.
One of the most unique aspects about Virginia is that it doesn’t feature any type of dialogue at all, yet still manages to be just as powerful. Instead, you’ll be reading the facial expressions of the characters, and truly paying attention as the scenes unfold, to get a grasp on the emotional tale encompassed here. It may be a little confusing and hard to follow at times, but by the end of the game, you are left to make your own conclusions and reasoning as to everything that just took place. This is no way lessens the emotional impact the game can leave. In fact, I think it only enhances it. You’re left with nothing more than your own thoughts and feelings during the two hours you’ll be spending with Anne Tarver.
Virginia is a standard walking simulator, with the player moving the main character from point A to point B, with not much in the way of interaction, except to advance the story. There are a few collectibles to be found throughout the game, such as bird feathers and flowers, that can change certain things in Anne’s apartment, but they don’t seem to have any effect on the outcome of the story. They do trigger certain trophies though, so it may be worth doing for those that care. Other than that, you’ll simply be walking from one scene to the next, experiencing the story as it’s told visually to you.
The soundtrack to the game sent chills running up and down my spine on several occasions. Composer Lyndon Holland did such a fantastic job capturing the emotion of Virginia and the way players would feel while experiencing it. Something as simple as walking down a hallway in the basement toward your partners office, or searching through historical records in the archive, are brought that much more to life by the music accompanying it. In a game that doesn’t feature a single spoken word, all you have throughout the journey is the music, sights, and sounds to guide you through. And truth be told, that’s all you need here.
The little details that Variable State took the time to craft really helps Virginia stand out from the rest. From seeing how a married couple has two twin beds in their room instead of one larger bed, to the way certain scenes are laid out (no spoilers!), it’s clear that this is a world the developers fell in love with and wanted it to feel as real as humanly possible. The art style used is unique and is really well done. It’s especially beautiful in areas such as the outdoors when you’re looking out at a sea of autumn colors exploding in the trees in the distance. This is a perfect example of how a game can still resonate with many people and not have cutting edge graphics and technology within.
Games like Virginia are extremely rare in the industry. It will grab at you from the opening moments, and it will refuse to let go until well after the credits have rolled. It’s also on the short side, as a complete playthrough should take about two hours, three if you actively seek out the few collectibles it has to offer. While not a perfect game, as it does have small hiccups here and there, it’s definitely one of the better adventure games that I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing in recent memory.